Intelligence Gaps at the Local Level

08 Aug

While trolling through the depths of Homeland Security Today (a very good magazine, and FREE too!) I came across a small opinion piece on state intelligence fusion centers. It caught my eye because I’ve secretly suspected the same thing as the author – that these fusion centers don’t actually “fuse” anything at all.

The concept is noble and excellent – each state should have its own center to gather intelligence (from local, state and Federal sources), vet it, analyze it, and distribute it to appropriate agencies. In my position as a DoD Anti-Terrorism professional, I see a great deal of low-level intelligence, both from various state intelligence fusion centers and from the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Information Network portal.

Too often, states don’t actually produce any intelligence of their own. I get forwarded “pass-through” bulletins on a weekly basis which I’ve already gotten direct from DHS. I have yet to see an actual, original piece of intelligence from my state fusion center. I would be happier if states produced their own intelligence products, through actual analysis, than acted like a simple information clearinghouse.

The piece I referred to earlier, which can be found at the link below, presented three scenarios which the author claimed describe the state of affairs at most state fusion centers (Patton, 2011).

Scenario one: The majority of fusion centers in the US aren’t really fusion centers at all, but rather are buildings that consist of multiple law enforcement organizations working under the same roof.”

Scenario two: A great majority of analysts working inside state level fusion centers are straight out of college with little if any operational collection experience.”

Scenario three: Simply put, people are lazy.”

I don’t intent to malign the patriotism or competence of the folks working in my state fusion center. I believe they’re doing their best, within the limits of their experience and training. I do, however, believe we need actual intelligence analysis at the  state and local level. For example, in June, a DHS bulletin was distributed far and wide warning about possible Al-Qaeda plots against rail lines. This was days before the media got a hold of it. I received a simple pass-through on it from the state. Nothing further. I understand this wasn’t a very credible threat, but couldn’t there have been something original from the state added to this alert? How about a brief snapshot on high-risk rail lines statewide? Isn’t there some kind of study on this, gathering dust on a government shelf somewhere? There should have been. Rail lines carry HAZMAT on a daily basis . . .

The analysts closeted in Washington DC working for the DHS don’t know my state, don’t know yours, and cannot translate raw data into actionable intelligence on a local scale. “The greatest tool any operative needs comes from intelligence. Some of  the most incredible intelligence used in fighting the current wars abroad comes from legitimate, real, fusion centers,” (Patton, 2011).

What makes this shortfall even more critical is that all disasters are local. This is a key emergency management concept. Many incidents are not foiled by federal agents in dark suits, but by ordinary men and women reporting something suspicious. The people responsible for responding to incidents and coordinating for support are not federal officials in Washington, DC – they’re the emergency management, public safety, engineering types and elected officials in your city and mine. Disaster response is a local responsibility – intelligence analysis should be the same.


Patton, K. (2011, April 11). Two Views on Upgrading Fusion Centers – Part 1: Improvements Needed in Fusion and Analysis. Homeland Security Today. Retrieved from

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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Security


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